Guitars, Tonewoods, and Sustainable Forestry

From the Editors of E – The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I heard we’re running out of so-called “tonewoods” for making acoustic guitars. Are there alternative materials that eco-minded luthiers can switch to?
– B.C., Montgomery. PA

Today’s guitars are crafted from spruce, mahogany, maple, or cedar. However, increased demand and widespread mechanized logging worldwide have decimated the populations of many of these so-called “tonewoods,” leaving luthiers (guitar makers) with little choice but to start considering alternative materials.

Man-made materials are becoming popular as tonewood alternatives. The most pervasive non-wood guitar material out there now is carbon fiber. Enya, Emerald, KLOS, and Lava Music are among the companies pioneering the use of carbon fiber as the base material for their guitars. It has many benefits, such as durability—it’s 10 times stronger than steel—and light weight. Still, it’s hardly sustainable because it’s made from a non-biodegradable petroleum-based polymer that cannot be recycled or melted down.

Alternative Tonewood

A better choice for the eco-minded strummer could be Flaxwood, made by breaking the grain structure of natural wood and injection-molding it into shape with an acoustically sensitive binding agent. The resulting composite resists humidity changes and provides an eco-friendly alternative to tonewoods.

Another good option is a guitar made out of reclaimed wood. Whether the wood was salvaged from a barn, a table, or a deck, it could be the perfectly aged tonewood of your dreams. And you’re saving living trees from being cut down to build a new guitar.

Believe it or not, bamboo is also a good substitute for tonewoods. Luna’s Woodland Bamboo Grand Auditorium Acoustic-Electric Guitar is a beauty made out of bamboo—and offers many features and great playability for a modest price.

There are also plenty of alternative tonewoods out there from less rare trees. Buying a guitar made of Agathis wood helps preserve the rainforests where the trees grow in Southeast Asia. Koa, basswood, khaya, and sapele are all good stand-ins for spruce and mahogany without the conservation baggage. Some Martin models now feature wood from fast-growing granadillo trees, native to Venezuela. And Fender has swapped out rosewood for more sustainably grown pau ferro on various guitars in its line.

In 2011, the preeminent acoustic guitar maker Taylor Guitars bought a controlling interest in Crelicam, an ebony mill outside Yaoundé, Cameroon. In the ensuing years, Taylor has worked with Crelicam on the sustainable sourcing of ebony for use by guitar builders and other craftspeople.

As our planet grapples with environmental challenges, guitar makers are on the cutting edge of harmonizing their craft with sustainability. Indeed, the quest for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional tonewoods has struck a chord in the luthier community.

*EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at To donate, visit Send questions to:

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at To donate, visit Send questions to:

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